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When Gloria Chavez thought about returning home for the holidays for the first time since moving away as an 18-year-old, she found herself anxious at the thought of sitting in the living room of her childhood home, surrounded by members of the family he didn’t have. seen in a short time.
Once there, Chavez, who was 20 at the time, felt as if she had traveled back in time — responding defensively to inappropriate comments and even getting emotional, just as she did as a teenager. .
“I don’t see my family members often enough, so, you know, around the holidays is when I see everybody,” Chavez said. “It feels like all the hard work and all the years of going to therapy and things like that are gone. I let the 15-year-old take control of everything when I’m around certain people who reactivate those emotions.”
For many people, “hometown anxiety” is a common occurrence for those who need to return home for the holidays. In addition to making travel arrangements, packing and finding a house sitter, returning to your hometown for the holidays also means mentally preparing to see those friends and family members you haven’t seen in a while.
It could be the unsettling thought of meeting someone you know from high school, or the idea of your parents falling for treating you like a child again – or telling certain family members to make inappropriate comments about the your weight, relationship status or career.
When going home for the holidays means putting yourself in your childhood home surrounded by the people you grew up with, falling back into old behaviors is a common experience and even has a name – holiday regression.
Often, people affected by the phenomenon do not understand it at the time, said clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone, director of research and education at the Glendon Association, a non-profit association that focuses on mental health advocacy in Santa Barbara, California. Feelings arise from implicit memories – memories that exist in our subconscious – and make us act in the same way that we used to when growing up in that space.
“We may have changed in our adult lives, because we have new relationships and a new sense of ourselves,” said Firestone, “but coming back for the holidays, being with your parents and sleeping in your old room, that’s what to trigger. you and it brings back all those old feelings. Not on a conscious level, but it can definitely put you in that frame of mind, and it can put your parents in that frame of mind too.”
In therapy settings, family units are often referred to as “systems.” From the moment most people are born, they are put into a system between themselves and their parents or guardians – and if they have a sibling, that’s another system between siblings. No matter how old the person is, they will always be the child in their parent’s system, said Stephen Graves, a licensed mental health counselor and the program director at the University’s Center for Behavioral Health Medicine. Loma Linda in Redlands, California.
Some dynamics are ingrained in families from birth, Graves said. If you are the oldest sibling and were usually the one to make decisions, this will probably still be the case when you are with your siblings now. The younger sibling will always be treated as the younger sibling by their parents, no matter how many they actually have. Graves is in his late 50s, but when he comes home for the holidays, his elderly parents still refer to him by his childhood nickname, “Stevie.”
“If you have been in this dance with your parents or your family, where you have done the tango since you were 4 years old, and you have been doing the tango with your family for 40 years, and you say:” “I will not do it again,” it is easy to say that, but part of the system wants to be in homeostasis,” Graves said. “It’s trying to bring members back who aren’t doing the same dance in that old dance.”
The anxiety you feel when you think about returning to a stressful environment is often unavoidable, said Debbie Missud, a licensed mental health counselor and psychotherapist who specializes in relationships, anxiety and depression. But there are ways to cope.
Missud recommends planning for situations that may arise – if a conversation starts to turn to unwanted topics, you have a ready response that you have prepared beforehand.
“Remember that you don’t have to stay in situations that have a negative impact on your mental health, and you don’t have to have conversations you don’t want to have,” Missud said.
Falling back into old patterns often happens without us being aware of it, but you can remember to take breaks periodically to reflect on your mental state, such as going for a walk, going to the bathroom or moving to a different room away from the crowd Firestone said.
Sometimes, finding a family member you feel more comfortable around, or a space in the house you feel happiest, can help with the disorder, Missud said.
Now, when Chavez — who is 25 and runs a TikTok account that provides mental health advice for her followers — returns home for the holidays, she remembers not to react to inappropriate comments that she had already predicted might happen.
“I remember who I am and what I stand for. Those comments and those jokes are not who I am, and I have to move on because it’s not worth it to always react with anger,” Chavez said. “Besides, it’s temporary, and I’ll be right home as soon as I get there.”
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